NREL Challenge

 1,818

Solar District Cup 2022

Challenging multidisciplinary student teams to design and model optimized distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district.
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Overview

Challenge Overview

Welcome to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition!

The Solar District Cup challenges multidisciplinary student teams to design and model optimized distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district. These systems integrate solar, storage, and other distributed energy capabilities across mixed-use districts, or groups of buildings served by a common electrical distribution feeder. The competition engages students across the engineering, urban planning, and finance disciplines to reimagine how energy is generated, managed, and used in a district.

Teams compete in one of multiple divisions, each structured around a distinct district use case. A winner is selected for each division, based on the quality of their solar energy system design. The strongest designs provide the highest offset of annual energy and greatest financial savings. This will be determined by a techno-economic analysis conducted by students and evaluated by judges. The goal is to design, model, and present the most reliable, resilient, and cost-effective system possible.

Students will present their solutions to judges at a virtual live competition event, from which the winners will be selected and announced.        

            

APPROACH

The Solar District Cup is designed to inspire students to consider new career opportunities, learn new industry-relevant skills, engage with the professional marketplace, and prepare to lead the next generation of distributed solar energy. As competitors, students:

  • Build experience with innovative renewable energy design
  • Develop real-world solutions that shape the future of solar energy
  • Engage with industry professionals to forge relationships and connections that aid participating students’ transition to the solar energy workforce upon graduation
  • Compete to earn national recognition upon winning a Solar District Cup and/or being selected as an industry choice winner.

The Solar District Cup encourages collaboration between academia and industry. The program seeks to establish public-private partnership and demonstrate corporate and nonprofit industry co-sponsorship.

 

PREVIOUS PROGRAMS

The Solar District Cup launched in 2019 through April 2020. Learn more about the past cohorts of competitors, including winners and district use cases: 

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the program and the current competition: 

The Solar District Cup is directed and administered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and is funded by the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office. Learn more.

Guidelines

Challenge Guidelines

GUIDELINES

The rules document will provide a framework for student activities, student team submittal requirements, and judging evaluation. The Class of 2022 Rules are forthcoming; in the meantime, please see the 2021 Rules for an overview of the type of work that will be required in the Solar District Cup. 

 

GOAL

The goal for each team is to design a solar-plus-storage system for a campus or district that maximizes energy offset and financial savings over the contracted or useful life of the system. Competition teams analyze electric distribution grid interactions and assume the role of renewable energy systems developers to produce a power purchase agreement (PPA), lease, and/or cash purchase proposal for their division’s district.

The Solar District Cup has multiple divisions. Each division has at least six teams competing against each other. Each division is assigned a use case of an existing mixed-use urban district or campus in need of increased distributed energy development. The competition organizers provide each team with the details of their division’s district use case. A district use case is a defined area served by one or more electrical distribution feeders with a collection of spaces potentially available for PV installation, including but not limited to: building rooftops, open land, parking, and other infrastructure.

 

WHAT TEAMS DO AND WIN

Teams submit two deliverables: a Progress Deliverable Package and a Final Deliverable Package.

A team competes against other teams in a division, and each division has a single district use case. Competition organizers assign teams to divisions upon registration. Each team designs its own solution for the assigned division’s district use case. The strongest team concepts are those that maximize the district’s energy offset and financial savings over the system’s contracted or useful lifetime while integrating aesthetic and community considerations. A team wins based on its average score as determined by a panel of three to five judges who evaluate the competition entries through review of deliverable packages and presentations. The first-place winners of each division compete against each other to determine a project pitch winner. 

As competitors, students:

  • Gain experience with innovative renewable energy design
  • Develop real-world solutions that shape the future of solar energy
  • Engage with industry professionals to forge relationships and connections that aid participating students’ transition to the solar energy workforce upon graduation
  • Compete to earn a trophy and national recognition.

HOW JUDGING WORKS

A qualified panel of three to five judges—comprising subject-matter experts and representatives from the partner district use cases selected by the competition organizers—score finalist submissions according to the extent to which they agree that the content and formatting requirements were met and with the solution aligns with the judging statements listed below:

  • PROJECT PROPOSAL - The proposal presents a clear and concise summary of the project. Both the proposal and the presentation make a compelling case as to why the proposed solution is the best choice for the district given its needs, constraints, and goals.
  • CONCEPTUAL SYSTEM DESIGN - Conceptual system design proposes  a creative and innovative solution that demonstrates excellent analysis and system design and optimal battery use strategy.
  • DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM IMPACT ANALYSIS - Power flow modeling approach demonstrates sophisticated strategy to integrate a reliable solution into the distribution system while operating within voltage and loading restrictions.
  • FINANCIAL ANALYSIS - Financial analysis communicates a strong grasp of renewable energy project finance. Input assumptions are justifiable, calculations are correct, battery-operation strategy delivers maximum economic benefits, and pricing and rate of return are attractive to the market.
  • DEVELOPMENT PLAN - Proposed building, site, construction, and development plans with any rezoning adds significant value in a comprehensive, actionable, and feasible approach for the district and surrounding community.

COMPETITION DELIVERABLES

Teams submit two deliverables: A Progress Deliverable Package and a Final Deliverable Package.

Progress Deliverable Package—Solar PV System

  • A complete submission for the progress deliverable is a design and techno-economic analysis of interconnected solar PV systems that maximize energy offset and savings over the system’s contracted or useful lifetime for the division district use case.

Final Deliverable Package—Solar PV Plus Battery Electric Storage System

  • The Final Deliverable Package includes a complete conceptual design and techno-economic analysis of a proposed interconnected solar PV plus battery electric storage system that maximizes energy offset and savings over the system’s contracted or useful lifetime for the division district, given its use case parameters and conditions.

 

ELIGIBILITY

The Solar District Cup invites participation of teams composed of at least three students enrolled in accredited U.S.-based collegiate institutions. Students must be enrolled in at least one class and be pursuing a degree for the duration of the competition. Students and faculty advisors are not required to be U.S. citizens at the time of the competition. Members of the judging panels, competition organizer staff, and U.S. Department of Energy and national laboratory employees are ineligible to compete.

Although any level of collegiate student is eligible to compete, the challenge scope is intended for multidisciplinary teams of upper-level undergraduate students. Student participation may be integrated into senior design or capstone work, count as elective or independent study course credit, be added to the curriculum of existing classes, or be considered an extracurricular student activity.

Each team is encouraged to have at least one faculty advisor, but this is not required for participation. If a team of students needs assistance in identifying a faculty advisor or mentor, they can contact the competition organizers for help.

By uploading a deliverable package, a team certifies that it is in compliance with the eligibility requirements. If the organizers become aware that a team or individual is not eligible, that team may be disqualified from competition.

All required rules are provided in the Solar District Cup 2022 Rules, which are forthcoming. 

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